Amendment 8

Offensive Weapons Bill - Third Reading – in the House of Lords at 3:35 pm on 19th March 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Votes in this debate

Moved by Lord Kennedy of Southwark

8: Clause 38, page 32, line 32, at end insert—“(aa) the delivery is not made by a trusted courier of bladed products, and”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment, and the amendment at page 32, line 37, would allow for the Government to create a “trusted courier” scheme, and to exempt sales using “trusted couriers” from restrictions in this section. This follows the Minister’s undertaking on 4 March (HL Deb, column 448).

Photo of Lord Kennedy of Southwark Lord Kennedy of Southwark Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Housing)

My Lords, Amendment 8 in my name would enable bladed products to still be delivered to home addresses by establishing a scheme whereby the product is delivered by a trusted courier. This is an issue that I have raised in all the Bill’s stages in this noble House. Initially, I thought a trusted trader scheme would be the best option but I concluded that this trusted courier scheme is a better way forward.

The Bill would prohibit the delivery of bladed objects to residential properties, and the concern of small and medium-sized knife manufacturers and retailers is about the detrimental impact this ban will have on their businesses. As more and more sales move online, consumers expect to be able to receive deliveries directly to their home.

I have said at each stage that I support the aims of the Bill but I am concerned that it is a legislative sledgehammer that will affect small and medium-sized businesses based in the UK while having no impact on knife crime whatever. There is no shred of evidence that these high-quality knives being sold online are being bought for criminal intent. If there were, it would have been presented.

I think we all accept that if you bought a knife online with the intent to stab someone, you would create a very easy evidence trail for the police to follow. We all want to achieve the Bill’s objective and reduce knife crime, but at the same time not destroy or damage UK-based businesses. All I seek is to achieve protection for British business in the form of an approved deliverer.

Representatives of the industry met me, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, and the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, a few weeks ago, when the industry put what I thought was a very convincing case to the Minister, along with the honourable Members for Sheffield Central and Sheffield South East. I want to find a solution that does not harm business, and I think this is the way forward. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, in principle, although I have concerns about it. Noble Lords will recall that the Bill as drafted would mean that someone could order a knife from an overseas website and have it delivered to their home address, but could not order the same knife from a UK supplier and have it delivered to their home address. The noble Lord is attempting to remedy that situation. The difficulty I have with it—perhaps he can assist the House in this degree—is that the Bill also covers delivery to a locker. Would his amendment enable a trusted courier to deliver a bladed product to a locker as well as to residential premises, which in my view would be undesirable?

The second issue is that the amendment does not apply to Clause 41, which relates to the delivery of a bladed product to someone under 18 from an overseas website. The legislation sets down rules whereby, if the courier knows that the consignment contains a bladed product, they have to verify the age of the person to whom the bladed product is being delivered. I wonder whether it would be sensible, were the Government to accept that a trusted courier system is necessary, to extend that to Clause 41. Having said that, were the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, to divide the House, we would support his amendment.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, my noble friend will know how unhappy I am with the state of the Bill as it is. We are greatly disadvantaging British sellers of knives and doing almost nothing to control foreign sellers of knives. If we are after stopping knives getting into the hands of young people, sending them down a domestic route, where we know the person who has sold them and the courier who has delivered them and everything has been done in the open and properly, must be better than encouraging anyone buying knives to buy them abroad—indeed, making it almost essential—because only that way can they have them delivered to their homes.

If we were achieving something by the Bill as it is—if it was actually going to make things safer—I and, I suspect, the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, would support the Government. But, as it is, we are just disadvantaging British business without making anything safer for anyone. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, is a step in the right direction—I am sure the drafting will be improved—but the main thing is that I would really like to see the Government accept that they need to improve the Bill in this area and to undertake to do so in the course of ping-pong.

Photo of The Earl of Erroll The Earl of Erroll Crossbench

My Lords, I agree with everything the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has said. I also support this amendment, because it is a move in the right direction. To my mind, it does not go far enough because we are disadvantaging all UK distributors against all foreign ones. It just leaves a huge loophole—and personally I think the Government will be massacred in the press once what they are passing here comes to light—so I recommend they put at least this in.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for his amendments, because they enable us to return to whether or not the Bill should provide exemptions to the prohibition on arranging delivery of bladed products to residential premises or a locker. I am grateful to him and to the Sheffield knife manufacturers for the time they spent in discussion with me on this.

The noble Lord tabled an amendment on Report on whether trusted traders should be exempt from the prohibitions in the Bill on arranging delivery of bladed products to residential premises or a locker. In response, I said we would look to have further discussions with delivery companies on the issue. We have discussed this with a number of companies that provide delivery services. It is difficult for delivery companies to give a firm view on how they might operate in this sphere in future, and it will depend to a large extent on whether the criminal liability falls on the seller, as it does in the Bill in relation to the UK, or on the deliverer, as it does in relation to overseas sellers under Clauses 38 and 41.

Whether deliverers would be willing to take on the criminal liability—and with it the risk of an unlimited fine—for the offence of handing over items to a person under 18 is likely to depend on the specific circumstances in each case; for example, where a major retailer is involved, a delivery company may be prepared to take on the criminal liability because the commercial benefits of the contract outweigh the risks, but a small retailer may decide not to take on the liability. Placing the liability on deliverers could therefore work against small manufacturers and retailers, meaning that big firms can still have their products delivered to a person’s home but small ones need to use a collection point. This would be a perverse outcome that would put small businesses at a commercial disadvantage to larger firms.

I turn now to the amendments. When we considered the trusted trader amendments previously, I expressed concerns that their effect would be to transfer the responsibility for complying with the legislation and for ensuring that all bladed products are handled properly from the seller to the Government. I have similar concerns about a scheme that would exempt sellers using a trusted courier from the prohibition on the delivery of bladed products to residential premises. A trusted courier scheme would require the Government to set out the details of the proposed scheme, which would then allow for the delivery of bladed products to residential premises.

Setting up, administering and overseeing a trusted courier scheme would create a further burden on the Government or local authorities, with inevitable cost implications. In addition, simply being part of a scheme or possessing a seal of approval as a trusted courier does not guarantee compliance with the conditions of the scheme. No liability is placed on the courier in the current proposal, meaning there is no consequence for the courier company if it fails to comply; for example, by simply leaving knives at an individual’s door. Such a scheme would impose regulatory burdens on participating businesses. In addition, the scheme would need to be administered by an independent regulatory body or by local authorities, albeit with the expectation that participating businesses would be required to meet the cost of running the scheme.

In addition to the costs of setting up and administering such a scheme, many delivery companies work with self-employed individuals on a casual and part-time basis. Therefore, many of the persons who deliver items on the company’s behalf are not employees of the delivery company. This business model is likely to make it even more difficult to determine whether a delivery company can be trusted to provide reassurances that a bladed product will not be handed to a person under 18. It may therefore be more difficult to accredit a trusted courier than a trusted seller, for whom you will have information about the type of products they sell; their knowledge of their customer base; the systems they have in place to ensure that age is checked at the point of sale; and the arrangements they have for packaging and delivering items. With a trusted courier, you will simply have their assurances that they will not hand items over to a person under 18.

The Government remain of the view that the requirement to pick up the item at a collection point is necessary. We are concerned that exempting sellers who use certain delivery companies from this requirement will undermine the legislation’s effectiveness.

In Committee, a number of examples were shown to be defined as bladed products and therefore banned from delivery to a home address, including food processors, mixers and lawnmowers. Whether these items fall within the definition of a bladed product will depend on the facts of each case, but the Government do not intend for them to do so. I am sympathetic if this is a major concern. We can deal with this issue by making it clear in the statutory guidance accompanying the Bill that such items are not intended to be covered by the term “bladed product” and can be delivered to residential premises. Trading standards and the Crown Prosecution Service would have regard to guidance when deciding whether or not to bring a prosecution. When we suggested this approach in our discussions with retailers who raised the issue of food processors, they were content with such an approach. We can also exclude these items through secondary legislation under Section 141A(3)(c) of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 where we are content that they can be sold more generally to a person under 18.

I hope that I have been able to persuade noble Lords. Given the phrase that the noble Earl used—that we would be “massacred” for this—I do not think the noble Lord is going to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Kennedy of Southwark Lord Kennedy of Southwark Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Housing) 3:45 pm, 19th March 2019

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who spoke in the debate. I want to address a couple of the points that were raised. On delivery to lockers, I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, that that would not be a good thing. I hope that Amendment 9, which calls for regulations, would deal with that point. The noble Lord made another good point about deliveries from abroad. We will potentially stop UK companies delivering products to home addresses, but a company based in Germany, France or anywhere else in the world can carry on doing it. That is just not fair and, again, is a disadvantage to business. For me, that highlights why this amendment should be agreed today.

If the amendment is passed by this House, it will be sent to the Commons and we will ask the Commons to look at the matter. I am sure that, as part of the ping-pong process, they will decide that my wording is not quite as good as it could be. But if the Government decide to accept this or something like it, I am sure the draftsperson will come back with a suggested amendment.

Again, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Paddick and Lord Lucas, and the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, for their support today. I thank the Minister for her contribution as well. But I am not prepared to withdraw the amendment and would like to test the opinion of the House.

Ayes 234, Noes 213.

Division number 1 Offensive Weapons Bill - Third Reading — Amendment 8

Aye: 232 Members of the House of Lords

No: 211 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Amendment 8 agreed.